De l’Ombre des idées [On the Shadows of Ideas]
Portrait de l’artiste en collectionneur (d’après Nicolas de Larmessin), written by Marcelle Alix
As I was typing the words “Giordano Bruno” in the Google search engine in order to reminisce about the reasons why this famous Italian monk was convicted at the hands of the Inquisition, I was bewildered as a long list of websites appeared, inciting me to buy a ‘GoPro’, a popular camera that you can fasten just about anywhere to film your most unexpected sporting achievements in subjective mode.
No relationship whatsoever is to be found, of course, between the 16th-century Dominican whose statue adorns the Campo de’ Fiori in Rome and this contemporary narcissistic tool, if but a few letters that my tired fingers might have mixed up. And then again, maybe there is? Maybe this convoluted relationship can serve as an illustration of what I was looking to express regarding Aurélien Froment’s work.
The title of Aurélien Froment’s exhibition On the Shadows of Ideas is born of Giordano Bruno: “As ideas are the principal forms of things, according to which all is formed, so we should form in us the shadows of ideas”, words uttered in the film shown at the gallery, Camillo’s Idea. The analogy with Plato’s thought, using the link between the ideas and shadows in the cave in which we reside, inscribes Bruno’s sentence in the humanist tradition, a characteristic Renaissance feature. It would be easy to read in Froment’s work an apology of this very particular moment in Western history, when artists were scientists and scientists artists, when the study of a beautiful form was also the study of a rational one.
But when we skim over the images taken by the artist in Arcosanti, both city project and urban laboratory, built by Paolo Soleri in the Arizona desert of the 70s–still unfinished–we do not see what we expect to, that is to say the curtsey of a contemporary artist to a master of utopic architecture. We rather find ourselves face to face with everyday images of the residents that chose Arcosanti as a place to live. These images are not easily readable: they bypass nostalgia, apology, reverence and discourse. On the contrary, they proceed from a certain opacity that makes Froment’s work stand out.
In Giordano Bruno’s words, it is the shadow that catches our attention. The shadows of ideas can of course represent their manifestations in Plato’s cave, those that men mistake for the truth. He nevertheless expresses in this sentence a certain affection for these shadows: they are not to be left aside, following Plato’s wish, to favour the light, the truth. They are at the basis of a thought system, the one which Giulio Camillo sketches in his theatre of memory, to access unlimited knowledge. To the contemporary reader, it inevitably calls to mind that which Junichiro Tanizaki praises, a shadow about which we can care, a shadow that could be the sign of a reversal of modern Western values. The humanist project, whether seen through Camillo or Bruno, is not merely a project of light. Arcosanti is not the apology of a luminous modernism in the middle of the desert. It is about birthing shadows there, modelling the earth to make the characteristic bells, sold to finance in part the construction of the project.
The work of shadow and light, the one of the photographer and of the projectionist–two roles Froment works at in turn–is at the heart of the exhibition. The nature of these techniques that aim to find the perfect contrast, seems doubled by the images of the series made in Arcosanti, and by the character’s speech in Camillo’s Idea, whose precision does not yet enable us to attain a clear mental image of what could nearly be the theatre of memory evoked.
There is not really, in Froment’s body of work, a medium and a subject, such as when we distinguish the figure from the ground in painting. It is a practice that escapes this binary yoke, and thus refuses the clarity Western modernity treasures as a value. The form and subject of his work–unique and bizarre–constantly evolve and never cease to question the nature of language (spoken language, but also cinematographic language, and the language of images) and the way language enables us to represent the world. Froment’s images do not ‘show’ a lot, and ‘demonstrate’ even less. They take notice of the ambiguity of the world, of our desperate but poetic attempts to comprehend it fully and pick out, metaphorically, through the photographic image, the shadow in the picture: the difficu lties Giulio Camillo has to express himself orally, the impossibility of following the explanation of a mnemonic method, the desire of humans to reach infinity and their congenital impotence.
Far from the use of a ‘GoPro’, a door to a more than transparent sharing of our experiences, Aurélien Froment’s work grows this beautiful shadow, the shadow that the earth casts on the moon in the solar system Giordano Bruno defended until his death, the shadow that makes those able to nurture it the most complicated and charismatic beings of all.
written by Marcelle Alix
Aurélien Froment was born in France in 1976, and has been living in Dublin, Ireland, since 2008. Many institutions have organised solo presentations of his work, including: The Wattis Institute (San Francisco), Le Crédac (Ivry-sur-Seine, France), Musée de Rochechouart (France), Gasworks (London), Montehermoso (Vitoria, Spanish Basque country), Bonniers Konsthalle (Stockholm), Palais de Tokyo (Paris), FRAC Champagne-Ardenne (Reims, France). He participated in the Sydney Biennial (2014), the Venice Biennial (2013), the Lyon Biennial (2011) and the Gwangju Biennial (2010). In 2014, his exhibition Fröbel Fröbeled, which was first presented at the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver, toured to Villa Arson (Nice, France) and Spike Island (Bristol, UK).
Le Plateau / FRAC Ile-de-France will be hosting Montage des attractions, a solo exhibition of Froment’s work, from October 2nd to December 7th.
In 2015, his work will be presented at Musée des Abattoirs (Toulouse, France) with Raphaël Zarka, at the Heidelberger Kunstverein (Heidelberg, Germany) and the Badischer Kunstverein (Karlsruhe, Germany).
Upcoming art fair: FIAC, Paris, with Aurélien Froment, Ian Kiaer, Laura Lamiel, Charlotte Moth + Ernesto Sartori in Les Tuileries gardens.